NEWARK, NEW JERSEY – U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller said a longtime associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin should be barred from seeing evidence in a U.S. criminal case unless he appears in court to defend himself.
Mueller used a court filing Tuesday to claim Yevgeny Prigozhin is trying to evade prosecution even as he seeks access to pretrial evidence against his firm that’s also under indictment. Prigozhin, who provides food services to the Kremlin, is known as Putin’s chef.
If Prigozhin gains access to “sensitive” evidence in the case, he could use it to thwart U.S. efforts to “prevent his continuing criminal activity in Russia and elsewhere” outside the U.S., Mueller’s prosecutors said.
Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Prigozhin are among three firms and 13 people accused of producing propaganda, posing as U.S. activists and posting political content from a troll factory in St. Petersburg to encourage strife in the U.S. before the 2016 election.
Mueller had previously warned that Russian intelligence services still have active “interference operations” into U.S. elections and that handing over certain evidence could undermine U.S. enforcement and national security investigation. In the filing on Tuesday, Mueller’s prosecutors said all “sensitive” pretrial discovery should remain in the U.S.
“While the government wishes to make this discovery available to U.S. defense counsel, the risk of exposing this material to the Russian government warrants limiting the distribution and discussion of the sensitive materials to within the U.S. and within the U.S. offices of the defendant’s counsel,” prosecutors said.
The filing comes as prosecutors and Concord’s lawyers are battling over terms of a protective order on the pretrial handling of evidence. Concord has argued that an order barring Prigozhin from reviewing the evidence against his company is unfair and unworkable, and that the firm has the same right as any other defendant to see evidence against it.
Prosecutors cited a declaration by an FBI agent, Aleksandr Kobzanets, who reviewed Russian tax filings by Concord. It showed that in March, Concord amended its corporate records to list Prigozhin as the general director, or the equivalent of the chief executive officer, of Concord. Before that, he was listed as the controlling shareholder, but not a corporate officer, according to the filing.
The case is U.S. v. Internet Research Agency, 18-cr-32, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).